It's been four years since my husband Chris and I started our business, Pink Lily. And thanks to the hard work of our team and the loyalty of our wonderful customers, we've surpassed more than $50 million in sales. We're thrilled with the success of our venture, and we wish the same level of success for every new and aspiring entrepreneur out there. Our story is proof that monumental growth is possible (and in a shorter timeframe than some might think).
That said, the perfectionist in me can't help but look back on our first few years and wish that we had received some insider knowledge upfront. It would have been incredibly helpful to be let in on some of the fundamental realities of entrepreneurship while we were preparing to start up. Who knows how much more we might have achieved?
While I can't go back in time to speak to the younger me, I can offer these lessons to my fellow entrepreneurs and leaders, in hopes that absorbing my experiences will help to improve yours.
1. Growing pains are natural.
You'll find that hiring, motivating and growing your team of employees will be one of the greatest challenges you face. It takes serious time, energy, and investment to find, attract, hire, train, engage, and retain the right kind of people. There's a reason why whole industries are devoted to this very goal.
As an entrepreneur, you're an expert on your product and your business, but you may not yet be an expert in hiring and people management. Be patient with yourself and with others, and accept that the road will be rocky at times. Despite your best efforts, you'll make mistakes. You'll contend with challenging situations, and you'll lose some of your most talented people. This is part of running a business, and as your organization grows, you'll experience it more and more. Make a conscious choice early on to accept these growing pains as a natural part of the process, and save yourself from a lot of heartache.
2. Technology will be your best friend.
This one may seem obvious, but it's important enough to the success or failure of your business that it's worth calling out. In our digital age, there are now tools and systems for automating nearly everything. These tools, while sometimes requiring significant financial investment, save majorly on time and resources (thereby making more money for your business over time).
Growing startups that effectively select automation tools far outperform their peers that try to do everything manually. For your business, this might mean exploring automated inventory management, customer service navigation, social media management or more. We were delayed with the process of finding and setting up a strong inventory management system, and we paid the price for our folly. Be smarter than we were: Make technological tools and automated processes your best friend from the beginning.
3. Keep track of the successes.
So many savvy entrepreneurs track and monitor their failures, taking them as opportunities to learn and grow. And this is a smart approach. But I wish I had known that I should be tracking the successes and the wins right alongside the failures.
Not only are there lessons to be learned from successes (i.e., figuring out what actions should be repeated in the future), but there is enormous value in leveraging those successes to boost morale, motivation, publicity and productivity. When you know your organization's key milestones and big wins, you can communicate it to others – your employees, your partners and the public. You'll also be able to use this track record of success to keep you feeling productive and positive on tough days. Let me tell you, that's a shortcut I wish I'd had at my disposal from the start.
4. Don't be sidetracked by haters.
The hard truth about entrepreneurship is that not everyone will support it. There may be colleagues, acquaintances, and even close members of your inner circle who actively discourage your continued effort, momentum, and success. This is not always intentional, and it's not always malicious.
I've learned that some people are simply very uncomfortable with the concepts of change and risk. This discomfort and fear can bring out the worst in people and can cause them to deter you from continuing to invest in your business and its growth. If you're in it for the long haul and committed to the success of your venture, it's very important that you never be sidetracked by the haters.
Get into the habit of simply smiling, nodding and walking away. Don't ever let discouraging statements or actions stop you from doing what you feel is right. After all, if every business founder throughout history had listened to their early critics and naysayers, we wouldn't have any successful businesses.
5. Remember what you love about your business.
As you travel the road of entrepreneurial growth and encounter its many roadblocks and challenges along the way, you'll experience bad days just like everyone else. You'll find yourself wondering why you chose to do this, and you'll consider the benefits of just going back to a "regular" job.
My husband and I have had many of these moments over the last four years. What has helped us has been remembering what we love about this work. Create a list of reasons that you love running your own business, and add to it over time. When doubt gets you down, infuse some fun into your day. Make the most of the flexibility and spontaneity of entrepreneurship and let loose. Find ways to lighten the mood, shake off the funk, and remind yourself that there really is no job better than this one.